Steelers downplay chances to win
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger are brutally honest about the Steelers’ chances of advancing past the wild-card round of the playoffs, especially given the Chiefs humiliated them just a few weeks ago in Arrowhead Stadium.
First, the Pittsburgh coach: “I don’t know how much you learn from it, to be quite honest with you. They smashed us so definitely,” Tomlin said of the first meeting. “More than anything, this is like a reboot.”
Then, the quarterback: “We probably aren’t supposed to be here,” Roethlisberger said. “We probably are not a very good football team. Out of 14 teams that are in, we’re probably at number 14. We’re double-digit underdogs in the playoffs.”
You almost wonder whether the Steelers will even show up Sunday night.
But they need only look at their own postseason history to know there’s always a chance. The likely retiring Roethlisberger was a second-year pro in 2005 when the Steelers parlayed another wild-card berth into a Super Bowl triumph.
Few folks back then expected a team featuring the retiring Jerome Bettis to make such an inspired playoff run.
“We’re probably 20-point underdogs,” Roethlisberger said, “and we’re going against the No. 1 team that’s won the AFC the last two years — arguably the best team in football we don’t have a chance. So let’s just go in and play and have fun.”
Indeed, the Steelers (9-7-1) are playing with nothing to lose while the Chiefs (12-5) carry the weight of hefty expectations.
Not only have they won the past two AFC titles, they’ve been to the past three championship games, and they’re fresh off a record sixth West division title. The organization that once went nearly three decades without winning a home playoff game has now won five in a row, thanks to a bevy of talent surrounding Pro Bowl quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“I think the first thing you realize is that at any moment, one play can change the entire game,” Mahomes said. “It’s like that in the regular season, but the playoffs, it even goes to another level. One play can end your season or keep it going.”
The Chiefs were downright dominant during the middle part of the season, when a defense that was among the worst in the league did an about-face. But they stumbled down the stretch, losing in Cincinnati in their penultimate game — costing them the No. 1 seed, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
They still get to start at Arrowhead Stadium. But rather than spend this weekend resting up for the divisional round, they get to face the nothing-to-lose Steelers on Sunday night.
“Right now it’s all Pittsburgh,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “It takes every bit of effort right now to be ready for this team.”
Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt was a beaten-up non-factor against the Chiefs last month, playing about half of the defensive snaps and making one tackle. But he’s much healthier now, and despite missing two games entirely and parts of two others because of injuries, he tied Hall of Famer Michael Strahan’s sack record with 22 1/2 this season.